Lisbon, Portugal- Rachel (2016)

Posted 06/05/2017 by Rachel Ramey

the delay since my last post. I was sick for awhile, but I have finally turned the corner (I’m not taking as many trips to the bathroom) and I can post this piece about Portugal as soon as the Internet is strong enough.

Next stop on my trip was Lisbon, Portugal. I was extremely excited to go to Portugal after spending all of 2016 studying in Brazil. I couldn’t wait to try my Portuguese (Portuguese from Portugal is much different) and see where the Brazilian culture comes from.
The hostel was in the main train station downtown, a perfect location for any day trips from the city. It was called Destination Hostel and it was the best hostel I’ve stayed in on the trip. It had a huge common area and kitchen which was the perfect space to make new friends and meet other travelers. The staff was extremely friendly, and they were almost all from Portugal so I got the opportunity to speak a lot of Portuguese.

I’ve stayed almost exclusively in hostels throughout the trip. I’ve stayed in anywhere from 4-12 person dormitories both female and mixed. There have been loud ones and quiet ones, rude guests, chatty guests, and quiet guests. The good thing about hostels is that it is a great place to meet other young (or sometimes older) travelers who are going a lot of the same places and you hear lots of good life and travel stories.
When I first arrived I was hungry after my flights from Athens, so I ate at an outdoor cafe in the main square beside the train station. I ate a typical Portuguese dish: Bacalhau-codfish. I had tried it a few times in Brazil, and I wanted to see if it would be different in Portugal.
I was meeting up with a friend from the US who was also traveling through Europe. A few years ago, Ashton and I went to Peru together and we’d always talked about making another trip.

The hostel offered a typical Portuguese dinner for 10 euros, so we ate with a few members of the hostel staff the first night. We ate ‘bacalhau a bras’ which is codfish mixed with eggs and shoestring potatoes. It was interesting. We also had Portuguese wine, soup and bread.

We got up early the next morning to explore the city. First we visited the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a fortress built to protect the city in the 11th century.

After the castle we walked down through the winding streets of Alfama neighborhood to the riverfront. There is a lot of incredible street art around Lisbon, here are a few of the pretty ones I saw.

We reached the Praca do Comercio down by the Tejo River, and set out to walk to the Belem neighborhood ( Belem is also the name of a city located at the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. I didn’t realize exactly how far it was, more than 7km.

The riverfront had been turned into a jogging path, and there were several poems written out along its length. We passed tons of walkers and joggers out in the beautiful weather.
We walked under the bridge which was made by the same company as the Golden Gate Bridge. Across the river is a statue of Jesus Christ with his arms spread out, much like the one in Rio de Janeiro.

We passed the Monument to discovery which was built in honor of the advances made by Portuguese navigation. In the 15th century, Portugal accumulated a wealth of knowledge about the Atlantic Ocean as they tried to discover the sea route to Asia. Even Christopher Columbus gathered nautical information in Portugal as he tried to persuade the king to sponsor him (he refused). After the ‘discovery’ of the Americas, Portugal continued to make new discoveries in the new territories.

We visited the Torre de Belem, then walked over into the Belem neighborhood.

My Brazilian friends from the city of Belem in Brazil told me that I needed to make sure I didn’t miss the Pasteis de Belem, a shop that is the most famous for selling the Portuguese sweet pastel de nata, a custard cake. It was much like the Cafe Dumond in New Orleans that sells beignets, there are huge lines for the takeaway window, and inside the building are hundreds of tiny tables. There is a huge turnover rate as tourists make their pilgrimage to try the delicious dessert. I asked the waiter how many they sell in a day, and he said on a typical busy weekend they can sell about 40,000 Pasteis de Belem.

We stopped to visit the City Botanical Park which had plants from all over the world, especially from the formers territories and colonies of Portugal including Brazil and Macau.

Back at the hostel that night we met a girl named Grace from Great Britain. She was planning to go to the nearby town of Sintra the next morning just like we were so we decided to go together.
Sintra is a beautiful day trip from Lisbon. Set in the rolling hills along the coast it was the inspiration for romanticism and poets like Lord Byron.
We visited the Quinta da Regaleira, a villa designed by the Italian set-designer Luigi Manini for a man who made millions from Brazilian coffee. The villa and grounds are whimsical, giving the feel of a life-size playground making every adult wish they were a princess or prince.

There are grottos and caves to explore, castle towers to climb, mazes to wander through, and a deep well with a winding staircase to the bottom and three exits representing the choices in life leading to heaven, hell, and purgatory. It was easy to spend a couple hours wandering the gardens before catching the bus up the mountain to the multicolored Pena Palace.

The Pena Palace is one of the iconic palaces in Sinatra. After a steep climb through acres of gardens to reach the eclectic palace on top of the hill, we wandered around the towers and terraces taking in the beautiful view. I’m not a palace person, I think they all look very similar and I get tired of walking through room after room of gold, but this palace was a breath of fresh air. Plus, by only paying the entrance fee to the gardens you could walk right up to the palace door without taking the inside tour. I compare it to visiting the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Spain after a month of seeing cathedrals every day, something new and different.

Sintra is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The weather was perfect so we walked back along the trail to take in the view from the cross on the hill. It looked just like the postcards.
We went back to the bus, but unfortunately the bus driver had arrived, turned off the bus, put an ‘out of service’ sign in the window and promptly took a nap in the back seat, so we had to wait more than 45 minutes for the next bus to come up the hill.

We made it back to Lisbon and relaxed in the evening. We met some other travelers from the US, Brazil and India.
It was wonderful to visit Lisbon and see the influence on Brazil. The buildings look very similar, especially in Salvador and Florianopolis, there is a lot of the same food ( a big emphasis on seafood). The people are open and friendly. They have a very different accent, and are very proud of the way they speak Portuguese. I was told multiple times that I spoke ‘Brazilian” and not Portuguese, but several people also asked me if I was Brazilian when they heard my accent, which is a big complement for me! Portugal is almost entirely a coastal country, so it makes sense that Brazil was originally settled along the coastline as well (not to mention the formidable Amazon in the center).

I was so happy to finally be surrounded by Portuguese again. I spoke with as many people as possible, the woman in front of me in the grocery line, the hostel workers, shop owners, other travelers, anyone who would speak to me in Portuguese.
Some people travel for food, other’s for architecture, other’s for cathedrals or castles, I travel for people and culture. Europe has thousands of years of history and I think it’s so interesting to see how that history affects the people today, who they are as a result.